When I think of one iconic American oil painting, Washington Crossing the Delaware by
Emmanuel Leutze always come to my mind. I love talking to people about the work
because it is so polarizing--some love it but some people absolutely hate it. So
here's a rundown of a few of the responses I got from family, friends, an online art
forum, and the artistically and historically informed.
|Washington Crossing the Delaware by Emanuel Leutze, 1851, oil on canvas.
"It's not even the original!" It's true that the first copy of the
painting was destroyed during World War II. But Leutze made more than one
version after the original was damaged in a fire. There happens to be a version
hanging in the White House and one in the Metropolitan Museum of Art as well.
"Totally made up!" Given the fact that Leutze was painting a
scene from 1776 in 1851, certainly there had to be a few artistic licenses
made. He didn't have photojournalistic records to refer back to so we will have
to cut the artist some slack when it comes to the flag (the Stars and Stripes
design didn't exist yet), the ice (the Delaware apparently freezes in sheets of
ice, not so much in mini-icebergs), the boat (too small, wrong model), and the
light (the crossing was made at night in the rain).
"Washington is a stud!" I know--that is skirting the line of
appropriateness given the stud in question was our first president. But it's a
good point! Leutze makes George look positively masterful--his stance indicates
power, calm, and forward movement while the other figures in the boat seem
frozen in stasis or anxiety. He stands heads above the rest, and behind him the
sun is rising. All in all, a very providential depiction of our first founding
Whether you love it or hate Washington Crossing the Delaware, it doesn't really matter. The
best part about the whole question is that you look at it and you feel
something! Better that than feeling nothing at all. And that is what art makes
us do--feel something. That's why we work so hard to communicate what we want in
our paintings and drawings. Leave a comment here on the Artist Daily art blog and let me
know what your response to Washington
Crossing the Delaware is!